Spring’s in full swing at the Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market. You’ll still be able to find fresh English peas and fava beans. (Check out the April, 2010, Fresh From the Farm for fresh pea and fava bean recipes.) You’ll find a rainbow of tulips at the flower stands at the north and south ends of the market, and a tempting selection of ripe strawberries.
For me, spring is irrevocably linked musically with the trilling birds lyrically captured in the “Spring” movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Seasons” and the lush, green fields depicted by Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony.” When I think of spring in culinary terms, the first thing that comes to mind is pasta primavera. Spring pasta – primavera being the Italian word for spring. All those tender morsels of vegetables adding color and flavor to a steaming dish of pasta, complete with a flavorful sauce and a sprinkling of freshly grated cheese. What a scrumptuous way to welcome spring.
Believe it or not, if you are at a restaurant in Italy and order pasta primavera, you may be met with a blank face or a puzzled stare. That’s because pasta primavera is an American dish, not a traditional Italian one. And the first pasta primavera was not served in an Italian American restaurant. It was developed by the tony New York French restaurant La Cirque in the mid-1970’s. The light, healthy dish became wildly popular, and has become a favorite dish of countless diners, both vegetarian and meat-eaters. Traditionally, each vegetable in the dish was cooked separately to ensure uniform tenderness and texture despite different cooking times.
Nowadays, you can find pizza primavera and rice primavera dishes in addition to the familiar pasta version. Traditionally, each vegetable in the dish was cooked separately to ensure uniform tenderness and texture despite different cooking times. Sometimes six or seven different pots and pans were used to cook this deceptively simple looking recipe. Thankfully, chefs at America’s Test Kitchen developed a version of pasta primavera which reduced the number of pans and time spent in preparation and cooking. I’ve modified their recipe to reduce some of the calories from heavy cream and butter in the original version.
6 ounces green beans, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
24 thin or 12 medium asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces (see instructions)
6-8 baby zucchinis or 1 medium zucchini, cut diagonally into 1/2inch pieces (see instructions)
1 cup fresh shelled English peas
4 T. olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter
8 ounces white button mushrooms
4 large Roma tomatoes, cored, peeled and chopped into medium dice
1/2 c. half and half cream (or substitute low-salt tomato juice for vegan version)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. shredded fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 T. fresh lemon juice
(optional) serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. dried egg fettucini
To prepare the asparagus, break off the tough ends. If you are using the medium stalks, cut them in half lengthwise. Cut the asparagus on the diagonal into 1/2 in. pieces. If you are using baby zucchini, there’s no need to cut them lengthwise before using. If you are using a single medium zucchini, cut it into medium dice.
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil for the pasta. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan for the green vegetables. Add 1 t. salt to the second pot. Fill large bowl with ice cold water; set aside. Add green beans to vegetable saucepan, cook 1 1/2 minutes. Add asparagus, cook 30 seconds. Add zucchini and peas, cook 1 minute. Drain and immediately add vegetables to bowl of ice water. Let sit for 3 minutes until chilled. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 T. olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes begin to loose their shape, about 7 minutes. Add half and half (or tomato) juice, and simmer until slightly thickened. Cover to keep warm and set aside. Add 1 t. salt and pasta to the boiling water in the first pot. While pasta is cooking, heat 2 T. olive oil in skillet and saute garlic for one minute, or until very lightly colored. Add vegetables and cook until well-heated. Season to taste and set aside. When pasta is al dente, take off stove and drain. Reheat mushroom-tomato sauce, and then add it to the drained pastal Add vegetables, basil and lemon juice, adjust seasonings, and toss well. Serve immediately. (Adopted from Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe.)
If you’re looking for a filling dinner salad for those hot days ahead of us, try a cold pasta primavera salad. This is a perfect make-ahead dish, so with a little advance planning your busy days and hectic evenings won’t be as busy or hectic.
Pasta Primavera Salad
1 lb. Linguine, broken into 3 inch lengths
1 t. salt
1 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. Sugar snap peas or snow peas, trimmed and steamed for 3 minutes
florets from one bunch of broccoli, steamed for 5 minutes
4 carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into thin slices, steamed for 5 minutes
3 peppers (green, red, yellow, orange or a combination of colors), cored, seeded and julienned
2 medium zucchini, julienned and steamed for one minute
3 scallions, white and green parts, slivered
optional: grated parmesan cheese
1 c. coarsely grated Parmesan
1/2 c. plain non-fat yogurt
2 T olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. basil
salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes
Cook individual vegetables according to directions for each. Set aside. Place pasta in the boiling water, add salt and oil. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 c. of cooking liquid. Rinse pasta and transfer to large bowl. Add the vegetables and gently toss to mix the salad. Cover and chill. Wisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Add enough of the reserved past cooking liquid to achieve desired consistency. Wisk again and chill. About an hour before service, add dressing to salad and toss gently. Can be served with grated Parmesan.
(Adopted from a recipe in Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet.)
The Culver City Farmers Market is held every Tuesday from 2 to 7 pm on Main St. between Culver and Venice Blvds.
Katie Malich reminds everyone that pasta primavera recipes can be adopted to use any number of fresh, seasonable vegetables.